IN THE WEST OF ENGLAND the rich and rolling fields of the Midlands gradually give way to a rougher and less hospitable terrain. By the time one has reached the border shires of Shropshire, Herefordshire, and Monmouthshire, the aspect of the countryside has altered considerably. The rolling slopes and the deep soils of the Midlands have disappeared. Instead, the region consists of a series of low foothills deeply cut by many rivers and streams. The tilled fields which seem so characteristic of the lands lying to the east are here replaced by meadows and by tracts of the ubiquitous oaks which do so much to lend a special flavor to the border shires.
Perhaps the dominant characteristic of the border is the ever present mass which the Cambrian Mountains rear to the west. This rampart, because of its constant presence, often fades from the visitor's consciousness. And yet, by always lying at the edge of one's vision, and by effectively delimiting the western horizon, these mountains help to maintain a frontier flavor in the region. One seems constantly aware that these shires are the edge of England and that on the western horizon one can see the beginning of another and quite different land.
The country beyond this steep slope in many ways fulfills the promise of its eastern border. It consists of a high plateau upon which massive peaks alternate with deep and narrow valleys. This rugged region forms the mountainous heartland of the peninsula of Wales, today the home of over two million people. The Welsh dairy and
4 The Normans in South Wales
sheep-raising industries, together with extensive coal deposits, make a significant contribution to the British economy. A growing tourist trade continues to open up large areas of the peninsula to an even closer and more profitable connection with England. Despite its small size and scanty population, Wales plays a well-integrated and important role in the life of the United Kingdom.1
It is obvious to even the most casual visitor to Wales that such was not always the case. The Welsh countryside abounds with fortifications - prehistoric hill-forts, Roman castra, and Norman castles. The native heroes- Caratacus, Owen Glendower, and King Arthur- echo this martial note. These and many other things serve to remind the visitor of the long struggle of the Welsh to avoid domination and absorption by their wealthier and more numerous neighbors to the east.2 It was a bloody and lengthy battle, but it was one in which the Welsh were foredoomed to failure. Although their mountainous isolation afforded them great defensive advantages, it also condemned them to a poverty which made it impossible for them to compete with their more favorably situated neighbors. In the course of time it was inevitable that the superior wealth and numbers of their enemies should succeed in bringing the independence and isolation of Wales to an end.3
The final stages of this process began almost nine hundred years ago, when the tide of Norman conquest rolled into the border shires and reached the frontier of the old Anglo-Saxon state. It soon became clear to the conquerors that the existence of an independent Wales posed a serious problem. Sudden descents by the turbulent Welsh tribesmen had terrorized the border for years, and Norman control over the region would never be secure as long as this threat remained unchecked. Nor were hands wanting for the task of subduing the Welsh. For some of the invaders, at least, Wales represented not so much a threat as an opportunity. Beyond the border lay
1A number of books and articles pertaining to the geography and economy of Wales have been included in the Bibliography. For an excellent introduction to these subjects, see E. G. Bowen (ed.), Wales: A Physical Historical and Regional Geography.
2Also included in the Bibliography are some selected books and articles covering the earlier periods of Welsh history. The best general account of the history of Wales up to 1212 is provided by J. E. Lloyd, A History of Wales from the Earliest Times to the Edwardian Conquest.
3This is not to say that Wales' defeat in this struggle was complete. The Welsh people have managed to retain a high degree of cultural integrity and national consciousness, even in a world dominated by their English neighbors.
6 The Normans in South Wales
lands to be had for the taking; lands that were, to all intents and purposes, free and empty. Impelled by twin considerations of political expediency and personal gain, the Norman conquest of Wales began.
The first century of their endeavor was to prove crucial to the invaders of South Wales. During these years the conquerors were forced to adapt to the new circumstances in which they found themselves. The nature of the land, the personality of their adversaries, and even the act of conquest itself all combined to transform the character of the invaders. As the century came to a close, a distinctive Cambro-Norman society had emerged in South Wales. Neither purely Welsh nor wholly Norman, it was a society peculiarly suited to the endemic warfare and incessant land-hunger which characterized the Welsh frontier.
This remarkable process took place in a setting quite different from that which confronts the modern visitor to Wales.4 The lowlands, which are today the richest and most fertile portion of the peninsula, were untilled and undrained nine hundred years ago. Dense forests and deep swamps covered what are today well-tilled fields. Great oaks dominated the forest growth, except in dales where primroses and bluebells brought a touch of color. The undergrowth was composed for the most part of gorse and bramble, presenting an almost impenetrable obstacle to communication and travel. Much of the region was the habitat of creatures which have long since disappeared from Wales. Beavers, bears, wolves, wildcats, boars, and wild oxen infested the forests, adding to the difficulties the early inhabitants must have faced.5
A somewhat less formidable landscape lay along the upper slopes of the interior, where forest growth thinned out under the influence of the increased elevation. Although relatively pleasant, these areas were rather small. The trees came to an end at about a thousand-foot elevation, and above this point lay the moorlands. Here was an environment far different from the forests of the lowlands. The moors and ridges were subjected to the full force of the moisture-laden
4It must always be remembered in such discussions, that human activity often works great changes, for good or evil, on the land and its capacity to produce. For a well-written essay which illustrates this factor, see Christopher Trent, The Changing Face of England: The Story of the Landscape through the Ages.
5See Colin Matheson, Changes in the Fauna of Wales Within Historic Times
7 The Land and the People
westerly winds. The soil was poor and thin, and the characteristic vegetation of the region was low bracken, gorse, bilberry, and moss. Then, as now, the climate was cool and extremely damp, and the ground was soggy underfoot. Bogs were common, and in the valleys and hollows of the highlands, peat beds were being laid down.
Thus early Wales was composed of two quite distinct environments, and the early inhabitants of the peninsula were forced to choose between them. Both contained great obstacles to settlement. The fertile lowlands were covered by dense forests, tenanted by wild beasts, and blocked by impenetrable undergrowth. The uplands, on the other hand, were incapable of supporting agriculture. In a process beginning in the Mesolithic era, if not earlier, the Welsh chose the highlands.6 By this choice they determined the direction in which their culture was to travel, and also set a limit on the degree of development they could hope to achieve.7 They settled the moor and ridges, and only very slowly moved down into the valley floors They left the potentially rich and fertile lowlands to be the prize of the more complex and dynamic societies which were developing in the lowland zone of Britain and in the plains of northern Europe.
Restricting themselves to their highland environment, the Welsh developed a pastoral society, depending upon the cattle for which the region was suited, rather than upon the agriculture for which it was not. Their basic diet was not bread, but meat, milk, and cheese; and their drink was distilled from the honey their bees drew from the gorse and anemones of the moors. Relying upon their cattle, they
6See H. J. Fleure and W. E. Whitehouse, "Early Distribution and Valley-Ward Movement of Population in South Britain," Archaeologia Cambrensis, Series VI, Vol. XVI (1916), pp. 101-140, H. J. Fleure and T. C. James, "Geographical Distribution of Anthropological Types Found in Wales," The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, XLVI (1916): 35-153; C. F. Fox, The Personality of Britain: Its Influence on Inhabitants and Invader in Prehistoric Times, especially page 94.
7It seems difficult to dispute the point that the Welsh uplands are incapable of supporting any highly developed material culture. For a general discussion of the role of physical environment in limiting social achievement, see B. J. Meggers, "Environmental Limitation on the Development of Culture," The American Anthropologist, LVI (1954), 801-824.
This provocative essay suggests some general factors which may well have played a role in determining the overall pattern of the Norman conquest of Wales, especially the Norman failure to take and hold the highlands. See also R. I. Hirshberg and J. F. Hirshberg, "Meggers' Law of the Environmental Limitation of Culture," The American Anthropologist, LIX (1957), 890-892.
8 The Normans in South Wales
were self-sufficient in matters of food and clothing, while their simple way of life awakened little need or desire for the importation of foreign manufactured goods.
These free tribesmen were semi-nomadic herdsmen, reckoning their wealth in cattle, and practicing only the simplest agriculture. Their dwellings were crude and simple, since they served only a temporary purpose. Archaeological excavations have revealed much about the daily life of these people. One series in particular, that on Gelligaer Common, well illustrates the basic patterns of their activities.8
There were three houses in this little settlement on the steep slope of the common. These were of the rather common type known as platform construction. The slope had been prepared for the structures by a combination of excavation and terracing which had formed a building platform cut partially into the hill. Upon this platform had been raised a rude wall of unmortared stone, perhaps supplemented with turf or wattle. Roof construction was of the ridgepole type, with interior uprights, and most probably a thatch covering. Two doors pierced the long walls of the rectangular buildings, and there were no windows. The hearth consisted of a flat stone placed near one end of the building, behind which rubbish had been allowed to accumulate. An open fire was the only source of heat for this extensive structure,9 and smoke was apparently left to escape through the roof. An Internal drainage gutter lay along the walls of the upper end of the house, indicating that the buildings were quite damp, in addition to being cold and dark.
The major occupation of the two or three families living here was most probably grazing. Goats, sheep, and cattle could have been maintained, and the woods of the valley below would have provided
8The results of the excavations were summarized or noted in the following articles: Aileen Fox, "Dinas Noddfa, Gelligaer Common Excavations in 1936," Archaeologia Cambrensis, Series VII, Vol. XCII (1937), pp. 247-268- Aileen Fox, "Early Welsh Homesteads on Gelligaer Common, Glamorgan, Excavations in 1938," Archaeologia Cambrensis, Series VII, Vol. XCIV (1939), pp. 16399; Aileen Fox, "Excavations on Gelligaer Common," The Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies, IX (1937-1939), 297-299, C. F. Fox, "Dinas Noddfa, Gelligaer Common, Glamorgan," The Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies, IX (1937-1939), 295-297. The site excavated in 1938, from which most of the information in the text is drawn, dates from considerably later than the period under discussion. All evidence indicates, however, that modes and standards of living remained relatively unchanged for long periods of time in the Welsh Highlands.
9 The largest building at the site under discussion measured sixty by eighteen feet.
The Land and the People 9
excellent pannage for swine.10 Near the building platforms were found a series of low, wide banks, ranging in length from fifty to two hundred feet. Excavation showed that these banks were composed of loose stones, and that the soil in their vicinity was unusually deep for the area. The conclusion is obvious that these patches represented arable land which had been laboriously created by the removal of the stones which formed the banks. Agriculture must have been important, judging from the labor invested in it, but it could not have been very intensive, even in the small patches. Finally, numerous nodules of low quality iron were found in and about the homestead sites. The inhabitants must have smelted their own iron, but the poor quality of the nodules, and the numerous stone tools found in the same vicinity, indicate that the process was both crude and expensive.
These homesteads on Gelligaer Common were not representative of all Welsh settlements. Permanent peasant communities did exist in some areas where a more intensive agriculture was practicable, but their population was generally restricted to the non-free tribesmen, or taeogs. In time such settlements became a more important aspect of Welsh society, and many free tribesmen settled down to a sedentary existence. During the eleventh and twelfth centuries, however, the typical free Welshman was a semi-nomadic herdsman, and only the lower classes, who had little choice, worked the soil.11 Thus the settlement perched on the slope of Gelligaer Common characterizes the life of the mass of early Welsh society-self-sufficient, but lonely, rude, and uncomfortable.
Generally speaking, Welsh society was semi-nomadic, lacked a firm agricultural base, but was economically self-sufficient. It can easily be seen that these three factors acted against the necessity for, and the possibility of, the growth of any concentrations of population like the farming villages and trading towns which were developing in England. The Welsh lived in scattered pastoral townships, such as that on Gelligaer Common, or even in isolated family homesteads.
The activities of life were almost completely restricted to the local level. Thus the factors which discouraged urbanization also acted to protect Welsh society from those forces which elsewhere in western
10 A. Fox, "Early Welsh Homesteads," pp. 198-199. These woods have long since disappeared, but charcoal remains indicate that the Gelligaer inhabitants had a large supply of oak and hazel nearby. This can only have been in the valley.
11 E. G. Bowen, The Settlements of the Celtic Saints in Wales, p. 144.
10 The Normans in South Wales
Europe were antiquating tribal structures as adequate bases for social organization. The ancient tribal structure of society lived on in isolated Wales, and was fundamental to every aspect of Welsh life.
Property rights, inheritance, citizenship, and marriage were regulated by the kindred, and law was enforced primarily by the family feud. Most other governmental functions were unnecessary in view of the decentralized and primitive character of the society. Despite this fact, much of Welsh life centered around the eighty political bodies into which the country was divided. The fundamental unit in this organization was the tref, the residence of a single kindred. Numbers of such trefs were grouped into the territorial unit known as the cantref (one hundred trefs), or, at a later date, the commote (neighborhood).13
The commote was much more than simply a territorial unit. It was, to all intents and purposes, the highest element in the Welsh political structure. Regional groupings of commotes did exist, and Wales was traditionally divided into four "kingdoms." In each of these a single leader usually held some ascendancy, but his power was only a matter of force, prestige, or tradition. Real political power lay in the commote, and was there concentrated in the hands of the tywysog.14
12Studies dealing with early Welsh political and social institutions are numerous and sometimes confusing. The basis for most treatments is the Cyereithiau Hywel Dda, or "Laws of Hywel the Good." This early codification of Welsh law may be found in Ancient Laws and Institutes of Wales . . ., ed. A. Owen. Some important secondary works drawing primarily on this source are H. Lewis, The Ancient Laws of Wales . . ., and T. P. Ellis, Welsh Tribal Law and Custom in the Middle Ages. Also see William Rees, South Wales and the March, 1284-1415: A Social and Agrarian Study. Rees evaluates the "Laws of Hywel the Good," and finds that the picture of Welsh society they reflect is in all probability seriously distorted. The student
Drioedd Dyvnwal Moelmud. These works were long accepted by many as genuine, and were included by Aneurin Owen in his definitive collection. It has been shown that these triads are spurious, and were written by a Welsh antiquarian writing under the name of Iolo Morganwg. See G. J. Williams, Iolo Morgannwg, a Chywyddau'r Ychwanegiad, and Lloyd, A History of Wales, I, 318-319.
13See Lloyd, A History of Wales, I, 229-282. Lloyd here attempts to enumerate the various cantrefs of Wales, describe them, and define their boundaries. Also see the excellent map included in the second volume of the same work.
14For an excellent summary of the position and powers of the tywysog, see A. J. Otway-Ruthven, "The Constitutional Position of the Great Lordships of South Wales," The Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Series V, Vol. VIII (1958), pp. 1-20.
11 The Land and the People 11
This word is traditionally translated "prince," but the translation tends to obscure rather than reveal the true nature of the institution. Welsh law itself defined the tywysog as simply the possessor of one or more commotes.
In each of the commotes he possessed, the tywysog erected at some central location his llys, or court. This court was housed in a great timber hall built to shelter and protect the tywysog, his retainers, and bard, and the teulu, or armed band, which was necessary to his dignity and safety. Quite frequently the hall and the area around it were fortified against sudden attack. Huddled close to the hall, and often within the fortified area, were the numerous huts and houses of the tywysog's servants and administrative officials, the serfs who tilled the nearby fields, and the few artisans required by the economic life of the commote. Here also were located the warehouses in which was stored the tribute which custom required of every tref. The llys acted as the capital of the commote, and was the nearest thing to an urban center most Welshmen ever saw.
It was here the tywysog held his judicial court, and decided all cases, civil and criminal, high and low, which might be referred to him. There was no appeal from this court. In this, as in all other governmental functions, the tywysog was the final source of authority within the commote. Within his own territory the tywysog exercised all of those powers which are customarily associated with kingship. He might fortify when and where he pleased; his legal competence was all-inclusive; he might conduct war against anyone toward whom he conceived an enmity; and all fees, dues, fines, and perquisites were his to dispense. As long as the tywysog remained in possession of his commote, he was truly a king within its precincts and was accorded a large measure of respect outside it.
These extensive powers, however, were entirely dependent upon his continued possession of his commote. Envious brothers, hostile tywysogion, and unscrupulous adventurers represented a constant source of danger to the authority and security of the lord of a commote. Any of these enemies could kill or overpower him and thus gain possession of the commote. To all intents and purposes, the usurper then became the rightful tywysog, and few questions of legitimacy were ever raised. From the frequency with which such forcible seizures are recorded in Welsh chronicles, one may conclude that plotting and sedition of this sort were endemic to Welsh society. This situation contributed much to the disunity and the shifting
12 The Normans in South Wales
alliances of expediency which formed the characteristic pattern of Welsh political history.
This instability helped to develop a society in which such petty warfare became a way of life rather than simply a necessity or a duty. The free Welsh tribesman was a warrior born and bred. Giraldus Cambrensis remarked of the Welsh that "The husbandman rushes as eagerly from the plow as the courtier from his court" at the call of battle.15 Since they did not engage in extensive agriculture, the Welsh were able to devote themselves to year-round military activity if they chose to do so. As a consequence of frequent opportunities and mass participation, they became expert in sudden raids and masterly ambushes. Pitched battles and protracted campaigns, on the other hand, were beyond their capabilities, and the intricacies of siege warfare were foreign to their experience. Within the limits of their training, however, and in the terrain in which they operated, there were no better warriors.
In religion, as in politics and warfare, the Welsh favored decentralization and localism. The center of activity of the Church in Wales lay in a type of monastic body known as the clas. The typical clas consisted of a mixed group of clergy and laymen, living together under the rule of an abbot, but observing no regular order of discipline. This lack of regulation allowed the development of a wide range of local usages, and the clas was capable of excesses of both piety and corruption. It is true that a series of episcopal sees existed in Wales but even these had originally been monastic in character, and only began to assume their regular episcopal functions under Norman influence in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
During most of the medieval period, the concept of the clas dominated religious affairs in Wales. Instead of being the center of a duly organized and regularly functioning parish, the typical Welsh church was a chapel closely connected with a nearby clas.
Wales lay far on the fringe of western Europe, and had been protected by her position and her poverty from the forces of change which were afoot in the tenth and early eleventh centuries. As a consequence, Welsh society in the late eleventh and twelfth centuries was still dominated by institutions of an early and more primitive era- kindred, clas, blood-feud, and the like. These archaic institutions
15Giraldus Cambrensis, Opera, eds. J. S. Brewer et
Itinerarium Kambriae), p. 72.
13 The Land and the People
embodied and perpetuated the decentralization and disorder which characterized Welsh society.
Welsh society was not static, however, and new social and political institutions were evolving. Especially important were the tentative movements toward a political organization which would transcend the localism of the commote. This continuing development can best be seen in the growth of the traditional kingdoms of Gwynedd, Powys, Deheubarth, and Gwent. The name "kingdom" is, in this case, something of a misnomer, for these bodies bore little resemblance to he more fully developed kingdoms of the era. They had few clearly defined governmental institutions and their responsibilities and functions were sharply limited. They were little more than conglomerations of commotes recognizing a traditional affinity. The ties between the commotes were weak and fluid, and the boundaries of the kingdoms were, as a consequence, vague and fluctuating.
Within each kingdom some individual was usually recognized as king, but the title brought with it no grant of authority or jurisdiction. It carried prestige, and little more. The base of the Welsh king's power consisted of his authority as tywysog within the commotes he possessed. What additional power he exercised depended primarily upon the support he could obtain from the other tywysogion of his Kingdom. He had few legal guarantees of such support, and had to secure it as best he could.Military strength, ruthlessness, or personal magnetism could gain him such support, but only continued vigilance and success could maintain his control over his following. While some Welsh kings were able to command and retain much support, and to create at least the semblance of a powerful state, others were kings in name only and were actually weaker than many of the tywysogion of their kingdom. The strength of these kingdoms depended ultimately upon the forcefulness and continued good fortune of their kings. A single misfortune could destroy the prestige of the monarch, and the tywysogion would withdraw their support of him. The kingdom would then dissolve once again into an ineffectual collection of independent states.
Wales' greatest weakness lay in the fact that there were no stable and effective political institutions beyond the level of the commote. Under this decentralized political system, the Welsh wasted their strength in petty wars, desultory cattle raids, and fruitless intrigue. This weakness made little difference as long as they faced no greater treats than Irish pirates or an occasional band of Scandinavian raid-
14 The Normans in South Wales
ers. The high plateau - the heartland of Welsh society - remained secure from such attacks, and the Welsh could afford to continue to defer the development of any real unity. The emergence of a strong and united Anglo-Saxon state made it quite a different matter; the question of unity became crucial to the continued independence of Wales. A growing Anglo-Saxon pressure on the eastern border of the peninsula was only a forerunner of the crisis the Welsh would eventually face.
Anglo-Saxon expansion first reached the borders of Wales proper sometime about the middle of the seventh century.16 At any rate, the border regions of Shropshire and Herefordshire were in Mercian hands by this time. The momentum of Mercian expansion to the west apparently came to an end with these conquests. Little information about the period has survived, but the failure of the Mercians to advance further indicates that Welsh resistance stiffened. The Mercians halted short of the Cambrian Mountains, and contented themselves with the exploitation of those lands lying in the shadow of the heights. The barren uplands of Wales were apparently not worth the price the Mercians would have to pay for them.
This pause created a great problem for the kings of Mercia. Hitherto the Anglo-Saxons had been on the offensive, and the question of defense had not arisen. They had now reached the natural limit of their expansion, and possessed a large indefensible border stretching from the Severn to the Dee. What had been a question of westward expansion became a problem of frontier defense. This problem was finally faced by the Mercian king, Offa (757-796). His answer was to construct a boundary dyke stretching completely across the neck of the Welsh peninsula. This work generally marked the western limits of Anglo-Saxon settlement, although numerous later exceptions might be noted.17 It seems clear that Offa's Dyke was intended to define and stabilize Mercia's western border.
This new Mercian frontier policy probably made little actual difference in Saxon-Welsh relations. The Mercians had previously fought to conquer and to settle; now they fought to terrorize and overawe. At least this appears to have been Mercian policy in the period following Offa's death. Raids deep into Welsh territory can be noted for the years 796, 816, 818, and 822. It was not until the decline of
16Lloyd, A History of Wales, I, 195-196.
17See C. F. Fox, Offa's Dyke: A Field Survey of the Western Frontier Works of Mercia in the Seventh and Eighth Centuries A.D.
15 The Land and the People
Mercia's power, and the increase of Viking attacks on England, that this fierce Saxon pressure on Wales' eastern border was relaxed.18
By this time the traditional political structure of Wales had emerged. The four kingdoms were gaining prominence, perhaps partially as a result of the pressure and example of the Anglo-Saxons. Even with this somewhat more sophisticated organization, however, the Welsh were still far weaker than their eastern neighbors. Only on occasions when two or more of these kingdoms were united were the Welsh capable of defending themselves adequately. Such occasions were rare, and the hegemonies thus established rarely outlived their founders. Each time such an event occurred, however, the power of the Welsh was increased immeasurably, and the security of the English border was severely threatened.
The first time this happened was in the year 942, when Hywel Dda, king of Deheubarth, succeeded in uniting almost all of Wales under his control. On this occasion, however, English security was not threatened. Hywel maintained close and friendly relations with the English court, and spent his time and energies in attempting to lay the foundations of a stable kingdom. His aims were in advance of his time, and the attempt failed. With his death in 950, the kingdom quickly disintegrated into its constituent parts. Over a hundred years elapsed before the second such hegemony was established; one which was to prove far more dangerous to the security of the English frontier. Its founder was Gruffydd ap Llewelyn, a man who lacked the English affinities which, in Hywel's time, had prevented an open clash. Gruffydd seized the throne of Gwynedd in 1039, and united it to that of Powys. He immediately led the united forces of his two kingdoms against an unsuspecting Mercian army encamped on the Severn. He crushed his enemy completely, and served effective notice that the Welsh were now masters of the border.
Rather than following up the advantage he had gained on the frontier, Gruffydd immediately turned his attention to the conquest of Deheubarth. He was unable to force a decisive encounter with Hywel ab Edwin, king of Deheubarth, until 1041. When the encounter did occur, Hywel was badly defeated, and seems to have lost most of his power within the kingdom. He did manage to retain control of his commotes of Dyfed and Ystrad Tywy, however, and was able to continue to frustrate Gruffydd's plan for the conquest of
18Lloyd, A History of Wales, I, 201-202.
16 The Normans in South Wales
Deheubarth. It was not until 1044 that the two met in battle once again. On this occasion, Hywel was defeated and killed. Gruffydd was now able to unite the crown of Deheubarth with that of Gwynedd of Powys.
Despite this victory, localism remained strong in Deheubarth, especially in Dyfed and Ystrad Tywy. A leader soon arose to use this localism in an attempt to displace Gruffydd. This man was Gruffydd ap Rhydderch, no less forceful a man than Gruffydd ap Llwewlyn himself. The movement soon became dangerous, and the king was forced to conclude an alliance with the English border earl, Swegen Godwinson. The alliance was obviously directed against the southern independence movement, for, in 1046, an allied Welsh and English army invaded Deheubarth, and devastated the countryside. This course of action played into the hands of Gruffydd ap Rhydderch by solidifying public opinion against the northern king. In 1047, Gruffydd ap Llewelyn and his teulu were ambushed by the men of Ystrad Tywy, and suffered a crushing defeat. He escaped with his life, but this defeat lost him whatever
In his place, Gruffydd ap Rhydderch emerged as the paramount leader of the region, and was able to amass a considerable amount of power and support. He proved to be an active ruler, and no better a neighbor to the English than his predecessor had been. In 1049 he struck a bargain with a force of Danish pirates, and led them, together with his native supporters, into Herefordshire. Here he plundered the manor Tidenham, and slaughtered an English force which the bishop of Worcestershire led against him.19 He returned to Wales unscathed, and laden with booty. This was but the first of a series of raids into Herefordshire and Gloucestershire - raids which no doubt discomfited their English inhabitants greatly.
It may have been due to this discomfiture and to the exposed position of Herefordshire that a colony of Normans warriors was established in the region. It may, on the other hand, simply have been the result of English royal politics. Norman influences had been prominent in Edward's court for some time, and a number Norman immigrants had risen to high position with the benefit of royal in-
19The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, According to the Several Original Authorities, ed, and trans. Benjamin Thorpe, Part I, p. 302.
17 The Land and the People
fluence. A group of these immigrants had established themselves in Herefordshire. Here they distinguished themselves, and gained the hatred of the local populace by erecting the new type of fortress which had been perfected in Normandy.20
Norman influence was increased in the area in the year 1051. In this year King Edward found an opportunity to break, at least for a time, the power of the house of Godwine. Earl Godwine and his adherents were banished from England. This sentence included Swegen Godwinson, earl of a border region which took in both Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. He successor proved to be a Norman, Ralph, the son of the count of the Vexin and of Goda, King Edward's sister. Herefordshire had become, to all intents and purposes, a Norman colony.21
Earl Ralph apparently continued the Herefordshire Normans' preoccupation with defense. It is recorded that he made an effort to convert his English levies into a cavalry force by ordering them to join combat on horseback, rather than afoot as was their custom. This was later to prove a worthless innovation. The Normans' concern with Herefordshire's defensive strength was well founded, however. A new threat had been added to that posed by Gruffydd ap Rhydderch. Released from his alliance with Earl Swegen, Gruffydd ap Llewelyn was now free to resume his ravages on the border. He was quick to use this new freedom, and advanced into Herefordshire to test Ralph's new forces. The battle, fought in 1052, found the Normans unprepared to meet the impetuous charges of the Welsh. The Normans and English were defeated. Once again, however Gruffydd ap Llewelyn failed to exploit a military victory. He was content to retire with his spoils and heightened prestige, and to turn his attention to Welsh affairs.
In the following year a number of events were to conspire to place the English borderlands in even greater danger. Gruffydd ap Llewelyn was at last able to eliminate Gruffydd ap Rhydderch, and to reunite Deheubarth to his realms. He soon received a powerful ally from an unexpected source. An exiled English noble, Aelfgar
20For the location and identity of these castles, see J.H. Round, Feudal England: Historical Studies on the XIth and XIIth Centuries, pp. 317-331. For an intriguing essay on the development of the Norman castle, see Brian Hope-Taylor, "The Norman Motte at Abinger, Surrey, and its Wooden castle," Recent Archaeological Excavations in Britain, ed. R. L. S. Bruce-Mitford, pp. 223-249.
21Florence of Worcester, Chronicon ex Chronicis..., ed. Benjamin Thorpe, s.a. 1051, I, 205.
18 The Normans in South Wales
had gathered a fleet and army from the Dansk towns of Ireland, and had returned to England to recoup his fortunes. He was quick to strike an alliance with the Welsh chieftain, and the new allies immediately marched on Herefordshire.
This allied Welsh, Danish, and Irish force met the Norman and English defenders of Herefordshire a few miles from the city of Hereford itself. The battle was quickly decided. The chronicles intimate that the Normans, with Ralph at their head, took flight even before the battle was joined. In any event, the English levies, unaccustomed to the mounted combat to which Ralph had ordered them, broke before the Welsh attack. The battle became a rout, and Aelfgar and Gruffydd were able to enter Hereford, which they burned and plundered.
The situation on the border had become extremely serious, and Harold Godwinson, a rising figure on the English scene, determined to meet the threat which Gruffydd and Aelfgar had posed. He invaded Wales, but was unable to make headway in the difficult terrain and in the face of powerful opposition. In the interests of peace, he was forced to come to terms with his enemies. Under the terms of the treaty, Aelfgar was reinstated as earl of East Anglia, and Gruffydd appears to have been allowed to keep his border conquests.22 Gruffydd was content under the circumstances. He had won great wealth, and even greater prestige, and was happy for the opportunity to use both in further consolidation of his Welsh realms.23 His position became even better in 1057, when Aelfgar became earl of Mercia. As friends, allies, and neighbors, Aelfgar and Gruffydd were powerful enough to meet all threats to their position.
This situation changed drastically in the year 1062. The death of Aelfgar deprived Gruffydd of a great source of strength, and Harold decided to use this occasion to destroy him completely. In the Christmas season, he launched a lightening attack upon Gruffydd's capital of Rhuddlan, and the Welsh leader barely escaped with his life. Harold then put into operation a large-scale plan of attack. While Earl Tostig drove along the northern coast of Wales, Harold ferried a special force of light-armed troops into the heart of Gwynedd itself. Gruffydd was unable to resist the superiority of his enemies and
22This is the view of Lloyd, A History of Wales, II, 365.
23It may well be that is was during this period he added Morganwg to his conquests. See Lloyd, A History of Wales, II, 367.
19 The Land and the People
fled into the heights of Snowdonia. His power and prestige were swiftly declining.
He was allowed no time to recuperate. Harold's light-armed troops followed him into the mountains, harrying him and his supporters. Continued reverses and a mounting English pressure began to tell, and Gruffydd's followers began falling away from him. The end came on the fifth of August, 1063, when his own men turned on him, killed him, and sent his head to Harold as a pledge of their submission. With this victory, Harold's immediate aims were achieved. Gruffydd's hegemony disintegrated, and Wales fell back into the disunity which for her spelled impotence. Harold concluded favorable treaties with the lesser figures who succeeded Gruffydd, and a measure of peace returned to the Welsh frontier. With this threat to the security of England ended, Harold was able to turn to the pursuit of his personal designs for power.
These centuries of border warfare provide material for some important generalizations. It is clear that the English were unwilling or unable to fight to take and hold land which had little value apart from strategic considerations. This being the case, England's western border would continue to be vulnerable to Welsh attack.
Little could be done to eliminate the threat of such raids. The Welsh had no effective central government, and hence the English could establish no stable relations with them, short of making a treaty with every free Welsh tribesman. Even if the latter were possible, a certain amount of perfidy was built into the Welsh political system. Neither diplomacy nor terrorism could pacify the decentralized and intensely localistic Welsh for any length of time. Peace along the border could not be secured unless a Welsh leader emerged who was strong enough to enforce it among the turbulent tribesmen.
On occasions when such a leader emerged, however, the peace of the Welsh frontier was threatened in a way far more serious than desultory raids. Firmly united and properly directed, the Welsh were formidable enemies, and were capable of threatening the security of the entire West of England. Thus it was advantageous for
20 The Normans in South Wales
the English to maintain the Welsh in a state of disunity. This meant, on the other hand, that Welsh raids would continue to disturb the peace of the border shires. The only effective defense lay in the creation of a strong local force under capable direction and with considerable freedom of action.
This was a dangerous expedient. The alliance of Aelfgar and Gruffydd had shown that a powerful frontier lord and a Welsh king made an extremely formidable combination. Any frontier force strong enough to oppose Welsh attack effectively, could, in alliance with it opponents, threaten the security of the entire realm. The reliability of marcher troops is always doubtful, and so this danger was very real.
This was, in essence, the dilemma of the Welsh frontier. The English had found no solution after having wrestled with the problem for almost three hundred years. They were no closer to an effective and lasting frontier policy in 1066 than in 750. It was to remain a dilemma for the Norman invaders, and much of the history of the Welsh frontier turns upon their various attempts to solve this problem.
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